THIS MEANS BUSINESS: Homegirl Cafe in downtown Los Angeles is a successful model of social entrepreneurship. Staffed by female gang members trying to leave their past behind, it’s part of Homeboy Industries.
America’s economic woes have made grassroots urban ministers open to new ways of doing things. Fundraising has always been a challenge, and now more so. Common conversation topics in urban ministry circles include cutting positions, scaling back programs, and working more efficiently.
One topic stands out. The idea of starting a business to fund an urban ministry is not just hallway conversation or Facebook chat fodder. People really want to know. Even people who are critics of Big Business or Capitalism are hungry to make private enterprise work for their cause.
If you are thinking about launching a business to supplement your ministry’s bottom line, it’s important to understand both the concept of social entrepreneurship and the management capacity of the typical grassroots urban minister.
The mash-up of urban ministry and business can best be engaged through the world of social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship is a term with a variety of definitions. One prominent description is that of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder of Grameen Bank, a pioneer in microfinance.
In his book, Building Social Business:The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, Yunus writes:
Social entrepreneurship relates to a person. It describes an initiative of social consequences for a social purpose. This initiative may be a non-economic initiative, a charity initiative, or a business initiative with or without personal profit. Some social entrepreneurs house their projects within traditional nongovernmental organizations while others are involved in for-profit activities.
Take Yunus’s definition, add the desire to see people come to faith and life in Jesus Christ, and you have a grassroots urban minister. To illustrate this, three groups stand out.
Belay Enterprises, a faith-based nonprofit in Denver, creates businesses to employ and job train individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness, and prison. Last year 75 people worked in Belay’s businesses that include Bud’s Warehouse, a home improvement thrift store. While structured as a nonprofit, Belay realized over half a million dollars in revenue from sales, with very little by way of donor cash contributions. Jim Reiner, executive director of Belay, says they are growing a fund for new businesses that will increase the number of people employed or job trained per year. (Full disclosure: Partners Worldwide, the organization for which I work, co-hosted an event with Belay last month.)
Central Detroit Christian (CDC) created Peaches and Greens as a way to provide fresh produce to neighbors living in a vast urban food desert. The Peaches and Greens operation has both a storefront location and a mobile truck that sell fresh goodness throughout the community. Lisa Johanon, executive director of CDC and an incarnated resident, told NPR’s Michel Martin that prior to the creation of Peaches and Greens she had to drive ten miles for produce.
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN ACTION: Through Homeboy Industries, ex-gangbangers like these women at Homegirl Cafe receive job training and employment opportunities, in addition to a new start spiritually.
Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, founded by Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle, addresses the issue of street gangs through job training and business opportunities. Homeboy made news when it was forced to lay off more than 75% of its staff — 300 people, many in the target outreach group — because of budget cuts. Remarkably, the 60 people who were not laid off worked in Homeboy’s bakery, which was profitable and self-sustaining, and therefore capable of weathering the cuts. Since that desperate time, with the help of some compassionate and deep-pocketed friends, Homeboy Industries has rebounded and continues to provide job training and employment opportunities for ex-gangbangers in the L.A. community. (It should be noted that while Catholic faith is at the core of Boyle’s motivation, Homeboy itself does not publicly emphasize its faith roots. It is, however, an appropriate example of social entrepreneurship in my estimation.)
Most urban ministries I know — certainly those involved with groups like the Christian Community Development Association — operate and achieve as Belay, Central Detroit, and Homeboy do. If you have only seen yourself as a pastor or minister, you should recognize that you are already a type of entrepreneur that the world desperately needs.
The key to a successful social enterprise is the combination of “cause” and “good” management. The key to running a business that does good while feeding your ministry’s bottom line is the same combination.
We all have causes we are passionate about. It’s the management part of the equation that poses a challenge.
Larger urban ministries will face less of a challenge in managing a business than will grassroots groups. Sustaining a multi-million dollar operation like a rescue mission, for example, requires significant management capacity and skill. That same capacity can be redeployed or expanded to a business effort.
Smaller ministries that have survived for many years should also have some capacity to manage a new business endeavor. An outreach program with a few full-time staff has less capacity than a large nonprofit, but can still tap its network and management experience in running a business.
It’s the small grassroots groups — which are often our most innovative as well as fearless ministers — that need to truly count the cost of launching a business to fund their ministries.
I know of many effective urban ministries that are essentially one charismatic leader surrounded by a host of friends and allies. Often the leader is not paid full-time, and many times draws no salary from his work.
One man I know has a van that he uses to take aimless youth to church gatherings around his town. He uses a ministry name, but that ministry is not incorporated.
TRANSFORMING LIVES: Father Gregory Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries, meets with his team. Homeboy has developed one of the largest gang-intervention programs in the nation.
Another man, an ex-gang-member, rode his bike around town, making contact with younger gangsters and talking to them about avoiding future trouble. He was connected to a number of networks and coalitions, to which he funneled many gangsters for intervention or services.
In this type of operation there is very little organizational and financial management being practiced, and therefore little on which an organization can be developed. When it does come time to grow the organization, to strengthen management and plans, the charismatic leader will either need to grow or get out of the way.
It is entirely possible for this grassroots urban minister, no matter how little formal education he or she has, to develop into a nonprofit organizational leader or business person.
But it will require a lot of hard work to get there. Even more, it will first require an act of will, a choice, to grow in an area the individual may not have a passion for.
But if you want to operate a business that functions as a business and generates a profit for use in ministry, there is no way around it: You will have to learn the management skills and discipline that any successful businessperson has.
Even if you bring on somebody to run the business you will need to learn business. How else will you know if the person you have brought on is doing a good job? Or not cheating the enterprise?
For Those Who Take the Plunge
My prayer is that great numbers of grassroots urban ministers choose to grow their business skills and launch enterprises. Take the good work you do — socially beneficial work that impacts the lives of many of the least, the last, and the lost — and combine business skills to create things like well-paying jobs and needed services for urban communities.
When it gets hard, don’t get discouraged.
For years I’ve felt like my work as an urban minister was harder than the work of an average business owner, because I had more bottom lines to attend to.
Whereas a non-performing employee in a business might quickly get fired, in a ministry setting I would give that person extra opportunity to succeed. Some businesses make this type of extra effort, but in general urban ministries are much more likely to “give a second chance” — and a third chance — than a straight business would.
Even more, our ministries often hire people that no business would hire. And yet we need to keep our doors open and maintain a basic level of financial sustainability.
You’ve trusted God in reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost. Trust Him again to help you develop the business sense and management skills you will need to grow a business that helps fund your ministry.
BANDING TOGETHER: More than 40 individuals have worked for Next Step on the Indivisible bracelets assembly contract. Together they produced and shipped more than 1 million bracelets. (Photo: Next Step/Scott Jonkhoff)
Last fall Starbucks announced that it would sell $5 bracelets at every one of its 7,000 stores to boost job creation in the United Sates. Starbucks customers may purchase Indivisible bracelets for $5 at point-of-sale, with the proceeds going to support small business loans in underserved communities across the country through the Opportunity Finance Network. A $5 million grant by the Starbucks Foundation in 2011 seeded the Create Jobs for USA initiative.
The purpose behind the initiative is direct action to meet a need. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CBS News that “over 13 million Americans [are] unemployed, [including] a large percentage of Hispanics and African Americans, 42 of 50 states are facing budget deficits … and we’re celebrating 8.3% unemployment as a victory. I just can’t allow that … What I’m trying to do is ask the question, ‘How can business, and specifically Starbucks, use its skill for good?’ ”
Last month Starbucks announced additional partners in the cause. Google Offers and Banana Republic have committed to raise a combined $4 million to add to the $7.5 million raised to date, noting that the Create Jobs for USA program to date has helped create and sustain 2,300 jobs.
Another notable partner in this initiative exists down the supply chain. An assembler of the Indivisible bracelets, Next Step of West Michigan, has an impressive track record in connecting employment opportunities to people looking for a chance.
SMALL STEPS: The Indivisible wristbands are available at Starbucks stores.
Next Step got involved in the Create Jobs for USA initiative last fall. At a Wednesday-morning Bible study hosted at the Next Step site on Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Scott Jonkhoff entertained a question. Jonkhoff, founder and executive director of Next Step, was asked by a fellow participant about Next Step’s capacity to create a production space and hire people to assemble the Indivisible bracelet.
That conversation led to a busy October. Conference calls with BDA, a supply vendor for Starbucks, led to a site visit at Next Step. Recommendations from that site visit led to two intense weeks where Jonkhoff’s construction team transformed their dark warehouse into a well-lit and clean assembly and production space. A deal was signed that made Next Step a certified supplier for Starbucks, working under BDA, and 22 men and women were hired. “Product began rolling in every day,” said Jonkhoff. “Every day there was a FedEx Next Day Air shipment to bring us on line.”
To date Next Step has assembled more than 1 million of the Indivisible bracelets. On a visit to the office, I looked over the mounds of bracelets, plastic bags, and description cards that go into a single unit. Months earlier, at a Starbucks in New Jersey, I had purchased a bracelet as a small way to help job creation in the country. It was great to see not only the process, but to meet some of the people behind this effort.
Some of the hires were underemployed or unemployed. Others were in the process of rebuilding their lives after encounters with the justice system or homelessness. All of the employees I met on my visit were cheerful and working together as a team.
GOING ALL IN: Next Step founder Scott Jonkhoff lives out his faith by creating opportunities for others.
That spirit of camaraderie flows from its leader, Jonkhoff. He ran a fastener company for 14 years before selling the company in 2002 and dedicating himself to a missional purpose. A Christian his entire life, Jonkhoff heard a sermon on Matthew 25. “Our loving Lord says what we do unto the least is done to Him, and what we do not do to the least, we did not do to him,” Jonkhoff said. He felt convicted about how the poor and the hurting were just “faceless statistics” to him.
One cold day soon after, Jonkhoff noticed a man pushing a cart on the street. He left his office and gave the man a warm coat. “The look of amazement, gratitude, and hurting in his eyes exposed my cold heart, my judgmental attitude, and my lack of caring in years past,” Jonkhoff recalls. “I returned to my office and prayed for a new heart and the courage to live in a way that’s ‘all in’ for Him.”
After selling his business for a small profit, Jonkhoff began working with Habitat for Humanity to start a ReStore. There he worked with prisoners on deconstruction jobs and learned of the struggles and challenges they had in finding affordable housing and paid employment. They purchased homes, renovated them, and continued hiring men no one else would hire. In 2008 they incorporated Next Step as a 501c3 organization and began taking construction and remodeling contracts with the City of Grand Rapids and other businesses and organizations.
Today, in addition to the contract to assemble the Indivisible bracelet, Next Step is active in a variety of restoration and renovation projects. They are also exploring development of a community garden across the street from its facility that is owned by a local church. The Indivisible contract, however, has been a unique opportunity for more than 40 people who have been employed to date.
“So many are looking for a chance to turn it around,” Jonkhoff told The Grand Rapids Press in 2008. “That’s who we want to be there for.”
Remember that the next time you’re ordering coffee at Starbucks and look down to see the Create Jobs for USA Indivisible bracelet.
Since the Henry Louis Gates story hit the news last week, I’ve thought about countless encounters my friends and I have had with the police. But an experience I had two years ago stands out.
My wife and I were at a staff Christmas dinner. Our children were at home with two baby-sitters, the son of another staffer and my wife’s cousin. While enjoying a spread of Mexican food, I got a call.
“Jay is in your driveway, and the police have him handcuffed!”
Justice as an Act of Worship: Christian anti-poverty advocates joined together to pray, praise, and lobby for social justice during Sojourner's Mobilization to End Poverty last month in Washington, D.C. (Photo: ryanrodrickbeiler.com)
Jennifer Otterbein is a first year Master of Divinity student at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York. In late April she did something she’d never done before; she went to Washington D.C. to lobby her congressman and senators on behalf of the poor.
Otterbein traveled from her home in New Jersey to attend the Mobilization to End Poverty (MEP) event hosted by Sojourners at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. For three days, some 1,153 people assembled to rally against poverty and hear a lineup of prominent speakers that included Congressman John Lewis, TV and radio host Tavis Smiley, World Vision president Richard Stearns, evangelist John Perkins, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Dallas pastor Freddy Haynes, and urban ministry activist Alexie Torres-Fleming.
Organizers made appointments with hundreds of legislators so that activists could advance three action items designed to “protect and defend budget priorities that will reduce poverty.” These items included: 1) A call for congress to cut poverty in half by 2020; 2) to fully fund President Obama’s foreign affairs budget; and 3) to support passage of health care reform that protects the most vulnerable citizens.
Although Otterbein was nervous the night before her first foray into activism, she received support and training from the Sojourners organization and was energized by the experience. She says it was “a great way to see how advocacy works” and to see that “we do have a voice and can express it.” Now Otterbein is trying to figure out how her gifting and passions can lead to service in the care of her neighbor.
Not all MEP attendees were new to activism or to Sojourners. Sensing a deeper call on his life, Mike Kennedy came from Bradenton, Florida, to his second Sojourners conference looking for inspiration and direction. What this local Habitat for Humanity board member found was worship and fiery preaching, activism, instruction and camaraderie — and that was just on day one! By 9 p.m., he was still searching for direction, but not for inspiration.
Kennedy was one of a couple hundred young people who attended a Monday night session with bestselling author Donald Miller. Miller, best known for Blue Like Jazz, said he was there because he likes to surround himself with “people doing cool things.” He is founder of The Mentoring Project, whose goal is to provide aid to single mothers and role models for boys growing up without fathers. Miller also prayed the benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He talked about growing bored with his literary success and deciding to write a new story for his life. He encouraged his audience to do the same. Good stories, according to Miller, are those in which a noble character overcomes conflict. The more conflict there is, the better the story is going to be. He said good stories adjust our moral compass. He concluded: “Your life, your story must not be one of compromise. It’s that important.”
Taking It to the Beltway: During the conference, attendees took part in meetings with Washington legislators to encourage them to make social justice and outreach to the poor a priority. (Photo: ryanrodrickbeiler.com)
Rudy Carassco is a World Vision board member and, through July, executive director of the Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California. Carrasco was in town with Harambee teacher Glory Okeke to hear what the Obama administration is planning for its Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and to network with friends and benefactors in the urban ministry community.
Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was one of three Obama administration officials to offer Carrasco insight. Dubois outlined three goals President Obama has for the office. First, to “get the economy back on track and address domestic poverty”; second, to “encourage responsible fatherhood”; third, to “support maternal health, support adoption, reduce abortions, and find areas of common ground”; and fourth, to “increase inter-religious dialogue and action.”
Carrasco says, “It’s good to hear people like Josh DuBois and [special advisor to the president] Van Jones who represent the administration, just to hear how they describe the initiatives. … It’s important just to get a feel for things.” He likes what he hears so far. “Having areas of focus seems really practical and pragmatic in a good way. I think the equal access emphasis that the prior administration had was critical. … That’s something that can be leveraged now. …I know a number of people on the faith counsel. I trust them.”
For organizations like Carrasco’s that don’t solicit government funding, networking is vital. He says, “A lot of it [MEP] for us is the relationships with the people we know. … We have a lot of relationships because of the work I do, but also because of our past directors of Harambee [John and Vera Mae Perkins], so we maintain those relationships.”
Urban Strategies president Lisa Cummins served in the Bush administration’s Office of Faith-Based initiatives. She says events like MEP inspire and energize workers because “a lot of folks in the trenches feel like they’re doing it themselves. Coming together is a reminder that they’re not by themselves.” Cummins thinks great things were accomplished over the previous eight years by the Bush office, but that the work isn’t finished. She’s excited about what the new administration is doing and is supportive of its “monumental commitment” to objective goals.
There were over a thousand dedicated and enthusiastic attendees like these at MEP. Faces of every age and hue filled the downtown convention center. UrbanFaith briefly chatted with a couple Sisters of Charity from Leavenworth, Kansas, who had been reading Sojourners newsletters since the 1970s. These senior citizens said they’d heard a lot of voices since then and the ones at this year’s event were especially inspiring. A young, hip Mennonite from Pennsylvania said he felt as if this was a transformational moment in our nation’s history. He wanted to be “part of the changing wind and broader agenda in the political arena.” MEP surpassed his expectations. His friend, a Lutheran pastor, was interested in “speaking into existence a new American dream,” one for a “post capitalist” society. Still another young man, this one a youth pastor from Florida, was at MEP in search of ideas to expand his affluent teenagers’ vision beyond themselves. When UrbanFaith talked with him, he was toying with the idea of creating a tutoring program for the children of migrant farm workers.
Not only were attendees pumped, but Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, was moved to tears by what he sees as a new political climate. In his inaugural address Wallis said, “More than any time in my lifetime, this is movement time.” He rejoiced at the fact that “poverty is now on the agenda of churches” and said that although we may not agree about theology, we can agree about the need to eradicate malaria and hunger. Wallis also rejoiced in his new found position as advisor to the president. (It was this opportunity that had brought him to tears.) He reminded attendees, however, that “access doesn’t make change by itself.” He said, “This town is known for giving access without results. As long as 30,000 kids die every day due to hunger and poverty, access doesn’t mean a thing.”
Whether someone was a student, an unknown urban worker, or an activist with friends in high places, they were at the Mobilization to End Poverty event to make a difference on behalf of their fellow citizens and that is something to celebrate.
Photos courtesy of ryanrodrickbeiler.com.